The best rear-facing toddler car seats

Keep your toddler facing backwards for longer.

rear-facing toddler car seats

by Emily Thorpe |

If car seats confuse you, you’re not alone! Choosing the right one can be daunting – after all, this is arguably the most important bit of baby gear you’ll ever buy. But the options are simpler than they first appear.

A new EU car seat regulation, known as i-Size (but officially called R129), was introduced in 2013 to improve child car-seat safety and keep children facing rearwards in vehicles until they’re older than was previously required. The new regulation hasn’t yet replaced the preceding law, but it certainly will at some point.

In the meantime, babies must travel rearward-facing until they are at least 12–15 months old. Most i-Size seats only fit up to this age, at which point you’d need to move your toddler into a forward-facing seat. But there are more and more ‘extended rear-facing seats' on the market, which allow you to keep your toddler facing backwards until around the age of four.

Rear-facing is the safest position for a child to travel in the car. In the event of a head-on collision, the most dangerous and common type of crash, it can substantially reduce the pressure on your child’s head and neck. Remember, it’s always safer to keep your child in the lowest group seat for her height and weight.

Do you need an extended rear-facing seat?

If your child has almost outgrown their Group 0+ car seat and you’re shopping around for a toddler seat (Group 1), an extended rear-facing car seat is worth considering, as it offers better protection than a forward-facing one. If you’re buying a baby car seat for use from birth, it’s a good option too, as it enables you to keep your baby in the safest possible position for longer, making it a better-value buy as well.

Do you want a forward-facing option?

Some of the car seats we have included allow you to switch your baby from rearward-facing to forward-facing once she reaches the appropriate height or weight. The advantage of this is flexibility – it can be useful to have the option of switching, for example, if your child is fractious. However, it’s a common misconception that children don’t like facing backwards as they get older – if your tot only knows a rear-facing seat, they're unlikely to complain! Extended rear-facing seats can appear cramped for toddlers, but they’re much more comfortable than they look.

Will you keep it in the car?

If you’re shopping for your baby’s first car seat and want the option to attach it to your pushchair frame, then an extended rear-facing seat isn’t suitable. They’re designed to stay put in your vehicle and can be bulky and heavy.

Is it compatible with your vehicle?

Not all car seats are approved for use in all vehicles, so check it’s compatible with your car – the car-seat retailer will be able to tell you. Most of the seats we tested are ISOFIX seats, which means connector points in the base of the seat plug into metal anchor points built into the car’s chassis, with a support leg or top tether to prevent it from tipping up in a collision. Check whether you can try the car seat in your vehicle before you buy it.

How easy is it to install?

Some car seats are easier to install than others, but it’s vital you know how to fit them correctly in order to offer full protection. Many retailers will install the seat for you, and some of the seats included in this round-up have installation features that indicate when they’re correctly in place.

Do you need a car seat base?

An extended rear-facing car seat usually has to be installed with a compatible base. You might need to purchase this separately, which bumps up the cost, so check before you buy.

Rear-facing toddler car seats

What to look for in a rear-facing toddler car seat

Top tether: This is a strap attached to the back of an ISOFIX car seat. It hooks onto a fixed point in the back of the car to prevent the seat from moving in a collision. With an ISOFIX seat, it’s essential to use this or a support leg in addition to the anchor points.

Safety features: Look for a deep headrest, energy-absorbing fabric, and side-impact protection.

Adjustable headrest: The headrest must be correctly positioned to adequately support your baby’s head and spine – check that it’s easy to adjust.

Fabric: Machine-washable fabrics are a mum’s best friend. Toddlers sometimes leak, after all! Ideally, you want to be able to whip the cover off and pop it in the wash.

Support leg: This is a bar that extends from the bottom of an ISOFIX car seat down into the footwell to prevent it moving in a collision, but it may not be suitable for use if your vehicle has under-floor storage.

Base: Some car seats have a separate base unit. It plugs straight into the ISOFIX anchor points in your vehicle, and the car seat clicks in place on top of the base. Check whether you need a separate base, and if it’s an additional expense.

Rotation: Some of the car seats we have included have 360° swivel functionality, so you can spin the seat to face you when you’re lifting your child in and out. Our testers all found this a useful feature, but some parents feel it’s a gimmick they’re not keen to pay a premium for.

Seat recline: Babies under six months should lie flat when sleeping so their spine and lungs develop healthily, and no child should sit in a car seat for more than two hours at a time. But quick naps are unavoidable in the car, so choose a seat with a deep recline for comfy snoozing.

Buckle and harness: The harness should be easy to adjust for the perfect fit over your baby’s body, especially if they have an overnight growth spurt. Can you fasten and release the buckle easily, without breaking a nail?

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